Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



Major Professor

Melissa B. Hansen-Petrik

Committee Members

Katherine Kavanagh, Dawn P. Coe


The purpose of this study was to describe home play food within a nutritional context, specifically related to gender, food neophobia, maternal feeding styles, and food preference among pre-school aged children. Additionally, our aim was to gain a better understanding of how play foods may serve as a proxy for exposure and how this might affect food familiarity and preference in this population. Mothers of children ages 2 to 5 years (n=181) were recruited from a children’s consignment event in Knoxville, Tennessee, to complete a survey to assess home play food availability, children’s dietary preferences, maternal feeding style, and food neophobia. Overall, 80.7% of children had play food at home, with an average of 32 different play foods represented per household among those with play foods. Vegetable play foods were most commonly reported by mothers followed in descending order by fruit, grains, sweets/fats, and protein MyPlate food groups. Girls had significantly more play food items at home than boys, specifically within the fruit, vegetable, grain, protein, and sweets/fats categories but not within the dairy, mixed dish, beverage, or condiment categories. No significant relationships were observed between home play food availability and number of foods “liked” within food groups and play food availability did not modulate the inverse relationship between food neophobia and number of foods liked. Compared to mothers with an authoritarian feeding style, mothers who exhibited the indulgent feeding style had children who were significantly less neophobic, and had a lower reported preference for foods classified as sweets/fats. Additionally, uninvolved mothers had children with a significantly lower preference for vegetables compared to indulgent mothers. Further research is necessary to more clearly identify the existence of a relationship between play food exposure and food preferences in preschool-aged children.

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